Lots of basic good sense from Laura Ingraham in the clip below, warning of the consequences if Democratic moderates don’t unite behind a single candidate soon. And not “soon” as in next month. “Soon” as in next week.
Which won’t happen, of course.
After all, if there were a way for party leaders to quickly steer voters towards one candidate or the other for strategic reasons they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re now in, with centrists splintered among four choices. Joe Biden would already be the presumptive nominee, preparing for battle against Trump in the general election. Watch, then read on.
Does Bernie look like a “juggernaut” right now? Hard to argue with this takeaway from last night’s results:
A simple, but thus far unremarked-upon truth about Bernie Sanders' performance in the NH primary last night: it proves that a huge amount of his primary performance in 2016 wasn't due to true ideological support, but merely as a place to park a protest vote against Hillary.
— Esoteric Jeff (@EsotericCD) February 12, 2020
I, er, wonder which other Hillary 2016 opponents benefited from an anti-Clinton protest vote that won’t show up again in 2020. This number from New Hampshire wasn’t encouraging for Sanders either:
An interesting thing are the nonvoters of 2016 who decided to vote this time. Buttigieg seems to be the big winner there, getting 47% of 2016 nonvoters that decided to vote. The rest were basically split between Klobuchar and Biden (25% each or so)
— Lenny Bronner (@lbronner) February 12, 2020
Bernie’s whole pitch is that he can expand the electorate by getting people who don’t normally pay attention to politics excited to vote. There’s a world of disaffected (mostly young) socialists out there, we’re told, who just need a candidate who speaks to them to get motivated to turn out. If that’s so, why was Buttigieg the chief beneficiary among 2016 nonvoters last night? Right, it’s possible that Bernie already converted most of the state’s persuadable disaffected leftist nonvoters into Bernie voters back in 2016, but that would mean he hasn’t expanded his appeal much in the four years since. And, given how much smaller his share of the vote was this time without Hillary on the ballot, it would mean that a lot of those former nonvoters who showed up in 2016 for him (or at least to vote against Clinton) weren’t still feeling the Bern now.
That would be easy for progressives to explain if Warren had had a big night: “There’s still a humongous progressive vote, it just divided between two candidates this time.” But Warren didn’t have a big night, to put it mildly.
Nor was Democratic turnout explosive, as one might expect from Berniemania if Sanders’s argument that he’ll expand the electorate is true. It was up from four years ago, proof that plenty of people who skipped that election showed up for this one. But that didn’t produce a Bernie landslide. To the contrary, he might well have lost this race if a last-second burst of Klomentum hadn’t drawn moderate voters away from Pete Buttigieg.
The percentage of eligible voters who showed up is closer to 2016 levels than the blockbuster number from 2008. The good news for Dems is that there are more Democrats and indies willing to vote in a Democratic primary in New Hampshire now than ever before. The bad news is that last night’s Republican primary was uncompetitive and so those numbers may have been padded by right-leaning indies crossing over to make mischief in the other party’s election. Even with the boost in turnout from righties and a larger state population and many more candidates in the field with organizations trying to get out the vote, the raw number of votes is only on par with 2008. Where’s the big turnout eruption that socialism fee-vah is supposed to be generating?
It gets worse. “Youth turnout in the state declined from 2016 to 2020 from 19 to 14 percent,” notes WaPo. “And the candidate seen as most likely to beat President Trump was not Sanders but his 38-year-old rival — former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, according to exit polls.” Sanders’s base is young voters; if there’s any yardstick for Berniemania, youth turnout would logically be it. And if you’re losing electability contests to an under-40 gay former mayor of a random midwestern city, you’re obviously facing grave doubts within your own party about whether you can win.
And yet. And yet. And yet.
Ingraham’s logic is remorseless. The question isn’t whether Democrats are excited to nominate Bernie. Clearly they aren’t, and as I’ve shown, there’s good reason to doubt so far whether his own base has grown since his 2016 run. The question is whether the combination of a sharply divided centrist field and the party’s proportional delegate rules means it’ll be effectively impossible to catch Sanders once he’s out to even a small lead. Nate Silver framed the muddle in the middle this way:
I don't know how the "moderate knot" (between Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Bloomberg) gets untied because they can all make reasonable and fairly non-redundant claims to being the strongest moderate candidate going forward. pic.twitter.com/YyDuPTvsSk
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) February 12, 2020
A dismal showing in Nevada could marginalize Klobuchar and erode Biden’s support in South Carolina to the point where he can’t win there either, eliminating both by the end of the month. But I don’t see any way that Mayor Pete and Mike Bloomberg aren’t major players on Super Tuesday, splitting the centrist vote between them. It’d be one thing if Bloomberg were about to enter the race right now; if he did well in Nevada and South Carolina, that could essentially finish off Buttigieg and set up a “Sanders vs. Bloomberg” race next month. But Bloomy’s not on the ballot anywhere in February. Someone is going to emerge as the highest vote-getter among moderates in NV and SC and it won’t be him; it could even be two different people, especially if Biden’s South Carolina support remains solid-ish. There’s no scenario in which Bernie doesn’t have the progressive lane to himself on Super Tuesday while the moderate vote splinters to *some* degree.
And that’s a big problem under the delegate rules:
Scenario #1: Bernie’s Super Tuesday vote share is five points ahead of the second candidate (say, 30% to 25%). Bernie would net 96 delegates more than the next-highest-performing candidate. At that point, it would be possible but difficult to overtake Sanders: To become the nominee, that survivor would need to beat Bernie by an average of 53% to 47% in in remaining contests.
Scenario #2: Bernie’s Super Tuesday vote share is 10 points ahead of the second candidate (say, 30% to 20%). Bernie would net 198 delegates more than the next-highest-performing candidate. Overtaking Sanders would be unlikely: The field would need to clear, the and survivor would need to win each remaining contest on average 55% to 45% over Bernie.
Some pundits noted last night that Sanders is at a disadvantage relative to Trump in the 2016 GOP primary since Republicans had lots of winner-take-all states whereas Democrats this year have none. That meant Trump could build up a big delegate lead despite winning with smallish pluralities of the vote. That’s true — but it cuts both ways. If, in theory, the party had united behind Ted Cruz after Super Tuesday and Cruz went on a winning streak, he could have caught up to Trump fairly quickly thanks to the winner-take-all system. Democrats this year can’t do that with Bernie since delegates are awarded proportionally throughout. The bigger his margins are on Super Tuesday, the bigger his delegate lead will be, and the harder it’ll be for any candidate to catch him afterward in the later states. To overtake him they’d have to win consistently and by big margins, race after race.
Which is unlikely. Although Bernie’s base is a minority of the party, they’re probably a large enough minority to prevent blowout defeats, especially after he’s built up some early-state momentum. Granted, it’s possible that as the moderate lane finally winnows the last moderate standing will win enough delegates to deny Bernie a majority. But that won’t matter: If he arrives at the convention with a plurality he’ll be the nominee, for the same reason Trump would have been the nominee if he’d only had a plurality in 2016. The party just can’t be seen as “stealing” the nomination from a candidate who got the most delegates. His base will quit. Defeat in November will be assured.
The moderates need a consensus candidate by Super Tuesday, less than three weeks from today. There is, as I say, no apparent path for them to arrive at one.
The key is Bloomberg. Party leaders can’t threaten him or bribe him to get out, and he’s doing well enough in polls right now that he probably can’t be persuaded to quit. If he were polling at two percent maybe he could be convinced to throw his money behind Klobuchar at this point, but at 15 percent or so and rising in some national polls he’s going to insist on taking his chances on Super Tuesday. In which case, maybe the Democratic establishment has no choice but to go all-in on him. He’s the only candidate with the money and organization to keep pace with (actually, way outpace) Bernie. Why roll the dice on flawed candidates like Biden and Buttigieg or switch to someone like Klobuchar who hasn’t managed better than a third-place finish when the Bloomberg death star will be operational on Super Tuesday? Lefties will hate it, but whatever. Either you want to stop Bernie or you don’t.
Paradoxical exit question: Is the best outcome for Bernie-hating moderates in Nevada and South Carolina a couple of landslide Sanders wins? If uniting behind a single candidate is paramount right now to centrists, and if Bloomberg can’t be deterred from competing on Super Tuesday, then the logical best-case scenario is for Bernie himself to make Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden all look ridiculous in the remaining early states. Raise the anxiety about a socialist takeover to a fever pitch and then hope there are enough moderates around to send Bloomberg to sweeping victories on March 3.